Fossilised guts in trilobites from the Upper Ordovician Letná Formation (Prague Basin, Czech Republic)


Authors: Fatka O, Lerosey-Aubril R, Budil P, Rak Š

Published in: Bulletin of Geosciences, volume 88, issue 1; pages: 95 - 104; Received 12 December 2011; Accepted in revised form 2 September 2012; Online 6 December 2012

Keywords: trilobites, digestive system, soft-tissue preservation, Letná Formation, Upper Ordovician, Czech Republic,

full text (PDF, 3.57 MB)

Export to RIS



The preservation of digestive structures of trilobites is extremely rare. Here we describe two new examples of trilobites from the Upper Ordovician Letná Formation (Prague Basin, Czech Republic), which display remains of the digestive system. The first specimen, assigned to Selenopeltis buchi (Barrande, 1846), exhibits cavities under the posterior part of the glabella and the axis of most thoracic segments. These cavities are interpreted as remains of metamerically paired digestive caeca and constitute the first example of preserved digestive structures in the order Odontopleurida. The second specimen belongs to Birmanites ingens (Barrande, 1852) and displays a tube-like structure, filled with a finely-grained material, that runs under the axial lobe of the entire trunk. We interpret this structure as a gut infilling similar to that repeatedly observed in the Moroccan Basilicus calzadai. These specimens confirm that the depositional environment of the Letná Formation was locally favourable to soft-tissue preservation. They also further document the presence of two different types of digestive systems in trilobites. The possibility that different processes might have been involved in the preservation of different parts of the trilobite gut is discussed, and several criteria to differentiate genuine gut remains from scavenger burrows are proposed.


Alberti, M. 2009. Ein homalonotider Trilobit mit ,,Weichteilerhaltung“ aus dem Ober-Ems des Westerwaldes (Unterdevon; Rheinisches Schiefergebirge). Mainzer Geowissenschaft 37, 23-32.

Adrain, J.M. 2008. A global species database of trilobite: Progress, results, and revision of the Treatise, 27-28. In Rábano, I., Gozalo, R. & García-Bellido, D. (eds) Advances in trilobite research. Cuadernos del Museo Geominero 9. Instituto Geológico y Minero de Espana, Madrid.

Babcock, L.E. & Peel, J.S. 2007. Palaeobiology, taphonomy and stratigraphic significance of the trilobite Buenellus from the Sirius Passet Biota, Cambrian of North Greenland. Memoirs of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists 34, 401-418.

Barrande, J. 1846. Notice préliminaire sur le systeme silurien et les trilobites de Boheme. 97 pp. Hirschfeld, Leipzig.View article

Barrande, J. 1852. Systeme silurien du centre de la Boheme: lere partie, Crustacés: Trilobites. 935 pp. Privately published, Prague & Paris.View article

Bergström, J., Hou, X.-G. & HÅlenius, U. 2007. Gut contents and feeding in the Cambrian arthropod Naraoia. GFF 129, 71-76.View article

Beyrich, E. 1846. Untersuchungen über Trilobiten. Zweite Stück als Fortsetzung zu der Abhandlung “Ueber einiger böhmische Trilobiten”. 37 pp. G. Reimer, Berlin.

Blaker, M.K. & Peel, J.S. 1997. Lower Cambrian trilobites from North Greenland. Meddelelser om Gronland, Geoscience 35, 1-145.

Bruton, D.L. 2008. A systematic revision of Selenopeltis (Trilobita: Odontopleuridae) with description of new material from the Ordovician Anti Atlas region, Morocco. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 82(1), 1-16.View article

Bruton, D.L. & Haas, W. 1999. The anatomy and functional morphology of Phacops (Trilobita) from the Hunsrück Slate (Devonian). Palaeontographica, Abteilung A 253, 29-75.

Budil, P. & Fatka, O. 2008. Bohemian and Moravian trilobites and their relatives. 47 pp. Czech Geological Survey, Prague.

Budil, P., Fatka, O., Kolář, P. & David, M. 2011. Arthrorhachis Hawle&Corda, 1847 (Agnostida) in the Prague Basin (Barrandian area, Czech Republic) revisited. Bulletin of Geosciences 85(4), 707-724.View article

Chatterton, B.D.E., Johanson, Z. & Sutherland, G. 1994. Form of the trilobite digestive system: alimentary structures in Pterocephalia. Journal of Paleontology 68, 294-305.View article

Chlupáč, I. 1965. Xiphosuran merostomes from the Bohemian Ordovician. Sborník geologických věd, Paleontologie 5, 7-38.

Chlupáč, I. & Kukal, Z. 1988. Possible global events and the stratigraphy of the Palaeozoic of the Barrandian (Cambrian - Middle Devonian, Czechoslovakia). Sborník geologických věd, Geologie 43, 83-146.

Cisne, J.L. 1975. Anatomy of Triarthrus and the relationships of the Trilobita. Fossils and Strata 4, 45-63.

Cisne, J.L. 1981. Triarthrus eatoni (Trilobita): anatomy of its exoskeletal, skeletomuscular, and digestive systems. Palaeontographica Americana 9, 95-142.

Corbacho, J. 2011. Trilobites from the Upper Ordovician of Bou Nemrou - El Kaid Errami (Morocco). Batalleria 16, 16-36.

English, A.M. & Babcock, L.E. 2007. Feeding behaviour of two Ordovician trilobites inferred from trace fossils and non-biomineralised anatomy, Ohio and Kentucky, USA. Memoirs of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists 34, 537-544.

Eriksson, M.E. & Terfelt, F. 2012. Exceptionally preserved Cambrian trilobite digestive system revealed in 3D by synchrotron-radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy. PloS ONE 7(4), e35625.View article

Fatka, O. & Mergl, M. 2009. The “microcontinent” Perunica: status and story 15 years after conception, 65-101. In Bassett, M.G. (ed.) Early Palaeozoic Peri-Gondwana Terranes: New insights from tectonics and biogeography. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 325.View article

Fatka, O., Szabad, M., Budil, P. & Micka, V. 2008. Position of trilobites in Cambrian ecosystem: preliminary remarks from the Barrandian region (Czechia), 117-122. In Rábano, I., Gozalo, R. & García-Bellido, D. (eds) Advances in trilobite research. Cuadernos del Museo Geominero 9. Instituto Geológico y Minero de Espana, Madrid.

Havlíček, V. 1982. Ordovician in Bohemia: Development of the Prague Basin and its benthic communities. Sborník geologických věd, Geologie 37, 103-136.

Havlíček, V. 1998. Ordovician, 39-79. In Chlupáč, I., Havlíček, V., Kříž, J., Kukal, Z. & Štorch, P. (eds) Palaeozoic of the Barrandian (Cambrian to Devonian). Czech Geological Survey, Prague.

Havlíček, V. & Fatka, O. 1992. Ordovician of the Prague Basin (Barrandian area, Czechoslovakia), 461-472. In Webby, B. & Laurie, J. (eds) Global perspectives on Ordovician geology. Balkema, Rotterdam.

Havlíček, V. & Vaněk, J. 1966. The biostratigraphy of the Ordovician of Bohemia. Sborník geologických věd, Paleontologie 8, 7-69.

Havlíček, V. & Vaněk, J. 1990. Ordovician invertebrate communities in black-shale lithofacies (Prague Basin, Czechoslovakia). Věstník Ústředního ústavu geologického 65(4), 223-236.

Hou, X.-G., Aldridge, R.J., Bergström, J., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J. & Feng, X.-H. 2004. The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life. 233 pp. Blackwell Publishing, Malden.

Hou, X.-G., Clarkson, E.N.K., Yang, J., Zhang, X.-G., Wu, G.-Q. & Yuan, Z. 2009. Appendages of early Cambrian Eoredlichia (Trilobita) from the Chengjiang biota, Yunnan, China. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 99, 213-223.View article

Jaekel, O. 1901. Über die Organisation der Trilobiten. Teil I. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Geologischen Gesellschaft 53, 133-171.

Jell, P.A. & Adrain, J.M. 2003. Available generic names for trilobites. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 48, 331-553.

Kácha, P. & Petr, V. 1996. The generic affiliation of Bohemian asaphid trilobites (Trilobita, Beroun Stage, Ordovician, Czech Republic). Bulletin of Geosciences 71(3), 251-254.

Kettner, R. & Prantl, F. 1948. Nové rozdělení a návrh jednotného značení vrstev středočeského ordoviku. Věstník Státního geologického ústavu 23(1), 49-68. [in Czech with English abstract]

Kordule, V. 2006. Ptychopariid trilobites in the Middle Cambrian of Central Bohemia (taxonomy, biostratigraphy, synecology). Bulletin of Geosciences 81(4), 277-304.View article

Kukal, Z. 1958. Petrografický výzkum vrstev letenských barrandienského ordoviku (A lithological investigation of the Letná beds of the Ordovician of the Barrandian). Sborník Ústředního ústavu geologického, Oddíl geologický 24, 7-111. [in Czech with English abstract]

Kukal, Z. 1998. Sediments of the Barrandian Palaeozoic, 136-148. In Chlupáč, I., Havlíček, V., Kříž, J., Kukal, Z. & Štorch, P. (eds) Palaeozoic of the Barrandian (Cambrian to Devonian). Czech Geological Survey, Prague.

Lerosey-Aubril, R. & Feist, R. 2005. First Carboniferous protaspid larvae (Trilobita). Journal of Paleontology 79, 702-718.View article

Lerosey-Aubril, R., Hegna, T.A. & Olive, S. 2011. Inferring internal anatomy from the trilobite exoskeleton: the relationship between frontal auxiliary impressions and the digestive system. Lethaia 44(2), 166-184.View article

Lerosey-Aubril, R., Hegna, T.A., Kier, C., Bonino, E., Habersetzer, J. & Carré,M. 2012. Controls on gut phosphatisation: the trilobites from the Weeks Formation Lagerstätte (Cambrian; Utah). PLoS ONE 7(3), e32934.View article

Mikuláš, R. 1998a. Trace fossils from the Letná Formation (Ordovician, Czech Republic). Sborník geologických věd, Paleontologie 34, 5-25.

Mikuláš, R. 1998b. Ordovician of the Barrandian area: Reconstruction of the sedimentary basin, its benthic communities and ichnoassemblages. Journal of the Czech Geological Society 43(3), 143-159.

Mikuláš, R. 1999. Joint occurrences of body- and trace-fossil communities (Ordovician, Barrandian area, Czech Republic). Journal of the Czech Geological Society 44(1), 69-78.

Olesen, J. 2005. Larval development of Lynceus brachyurus (Crustacea, Branchiopoda, Laevicaudata): Redescription of unusual crustacean nauplii, with special attention to the molt between last nauplius and first juvenile. Journal of Morphology 264(2), 131-148.View article

Ortega-Hernández, J., Braddy, S.J. & Rak, Š. 2010. Trilobite and xiphosuran affinities for putative aglaspidid arthropods Caryon and Drabovaspis, Upper Ordovician, Czech Republic. Lethaia 43(3), 427-431.View article

Přibyl, A. & Vaněk, J. 1969. Trilobites of the family Trinucleidae Hawle et Corda, 1847, from the Ordovician of Bohemia. Sborník geologických věd, Paleontologie 11, 85-137.

Rak, Š., Bergström, J., Fatka, O.&Budil, P. 2009. Upper Ordovician arthropod Zonozoe draboviensis Barrande (Libeň and Letná formations, Sandbian, Barrandian area, Czech Republic). Bulletin of Geosciences 83(1), 185-189.View article

Ramsköld, L., Chen, J.-Y., Edgecombe, G.D. & Zhou, G.-Q. 1997. Cindarella and the arachnate clade Xandarellida (Arthropoda, Early Cambrian) from China. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Earth Sciences 88, 19-38.View article

Servais, T., Dzik, J., Fatka, O., Heuse, T., Vecoli, M. & Verniers, J. 2008. Ordovician, 203-248. In McCann, T. (ed.) Geology of Central Europe. Geological Society of London, London.

Shaw, F.C. 1995. Ordovician trinucleid trilobites of the Prague Basin, Czech Republic. The Paleontological Society, Memoir 40, 1-23.View article

Shaw, F.C. 2000. Trilobites of the Králův Dvůr Formation (Ordovician) of the Prague Basin, Czech Republic. Bulletin of Geosciences 75(4), 371-404.

Sheng, X.F. 1934. Lower Ordovician trilobite fauna of Chekiang. Palaeontologia Sinica, New Series B 3, 1-19.

Šnajdr, M. 1956. Trilobiti drabovských a letenských vrstev českého ordoviku (Trilobites from the Drabov and Letná beds of the Ordovician of Bohemia). Sborník Ústředního ústavu geologického, Oddíl paleontologický 22(1955), 477-533. [in Czech with English abstract]

Šnajdr, M. 1958. Trilobiti českého středního kambria (Bohemian Middle Cambrian trilobites). Rozpravy Ústředního ústavu geologického 24, 1-280. [in Czech with English abstract]

Šnajdr, M. 1990. Bohemian trilobites. 265 pp. Czech Geological Survey, Prague.

Šnajdr, M. 1991. Zažívací trakt trilobita Deanaspis goldfussi (Barrande) [On the digestive system of Deanaspis goldfussi (Barrande)]. Časopis Národního muzea, Řada přírodovědná 156(1), 8-16. [in Czech with English abstract]

Stürmer, W. & Bergström, J. 1973. New discoveries on trilobites by X-rays. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 47, 104-141.View article

Van Roy, P. 2006. Non-Trilobite Arthropods From the Ordovician of Morocco. 230 pp. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Ghent University, Ghent.

Vaněk, J. 1997. On the genus Megasaphus Kácha and Petr, 1996 (Trilobita) from the Ordovician of the Prague Basin. Palaeontologia Bohemiae 3, 13-14.

Vaněk, J. & Valíček, J. 2001. New index of the genera, subgenera, and species of Barrandian trilobites. Part A-B (Cambrian and Ordovician). Palaeontologia Bohemiae 7, 1-49.

Vannier, J. & Chen, J.-Y. 2002. Digestive system and feeding mode in Cambrian naraoiid arthropods. Lethaia 35, 107-120.View article

Whittington, H.B. 1997. Mode of life, habits, and occurrence, O137-O166. In Moore, R.C. & Kaesler, R.L. (eds) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part O, Arthropoda 1, Trilobita, revised, 1. Geological Society of America & University of Kansas Press, Boulder, Colorado & Lawrence, Kansas.